Concerns regarding staff shortages have risen as entry to postgraduate courses in the Department of Life Sciences has been suspended. Courses such as the Entomology MRes and MSc and Integrated Pest Management MSc, held in Silwood Park, and Plant Science and Biotechnology MSc, held in South Kensington, are marked on the postgraduate online course list as ‘’suspended for 2012-2013 entry’’.
An anonymous report alerted Felix to claims that an increasing amount of Life Sciences staff are beginning to leave Imperial and take their courses elsewhere. Any potential closure of courses taught by such staff will affect the reputation of Silwood Park, famous for Applied Ecology, Pest Management, Forestry and Entomology, and Imperial as a whole.
A suite of closely related Masters taught postgraduate courses run by Dr Simon Leather, including Entomology MSc and Conservation and Forest Protection MSc have been suspended. Felix spoke to Dr Leather, who is moving to Harper Adams University in Shropshire to continue teaching the courses. He commented that “circumstances mean that the future teaching of my subjects are at stake”, and that regardless, “I’ve enjoyed my time at Silwood”.
“I feel it’s my duty that when I retire”, he continued, “entomology is still taught in the UK, and if I stay at Silwood, entomology as a taught subject may stop”. Dr Leather expressed his concerns for the teaching of such unique fields in Life Sciences and emphasised the intention to move was for the subject to continue to be taught in a healthy environment with the right people, not for personal progression.
Entomology is a subject which has been taught at Silwood Park for more than fifty years, and Leather said that “the events of the last year have made people feel less settled”, increasing fears that the department may be lacking a strategy.
Silwood Park President Francisca Sconce spoke to Felix and said “these Applied Ecology courses have been held at here at Silwood for a long time, we are seeing the end of a part of Silwood Park and Imperial College history”, adding “as a student on the Entomology MRes it’s really sad to see my course leave. I also feel that it is very short-sighted of Imperial to let these courses go, they focus on areas of food security, which will be a pressing issue with the growing global population”.
Other staff who are leaving include Dr Tilly Collins, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Life Sciences, which will have a further impact on undergraduate Biology degrees since Dr Leather also undertook a significant amount of teaching for them.
Deputy President (Education) Jason Parmar told Felix that “the reasons for the staff leaving are their own which we are unaware of, but it may be fair to assume that the low demand may have played a significant role in their decision.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “due to the courses’ reliance on the two staff members they have had to be postponed. It is concerning that these courses relied so heavily on individuals and we have been assured that the college is looking into preventing future risks like this occurring again.”
The Conservation Science MSc, Ecology, Evolution and Conservation MSc/MRes and Quantitative Biology MSc will continue to run at Silwood Park in 2012⁄2013, with a new Biodiversity Informatics and Genomics MRes starting in October.
Update [17:02 – 29/05/2012] – The article originally stated that Plant Science and Biotechnology MSc courses were held at Silwood, rather than at South Kensington. This has now been corrected. The original headline “Life Sciences cuts at Silwood” has additionally been changed in order to better reflect the content of the article and the course suspensions rather than the inaccurate description of “cuts”. Felix apologies for any confusion or distress rendered.